The PC Takes Over the House
LAS VEGAS -- If new products at the Consumer Electronics Show here are any indication, this will be the year that PCs truly migrate from your desktop and into your hands, your living room, even your kitchen appliances.
Component-size, network-ready set-top boxes that record TV, stream MP3s, and play movies are big this year, as are smaller, pocket-size devices that play MPEG movies and MP3s.
The Wired Kitchen
Salton is introducing the kitchen of the future with its "smart" appliances, resold by Westinghouse and Beyond.
The networkable broadband-ready $2300 Icebox FlipScreen Kitchen Entertainment Center provides an LCD that flips up when not in use. Built in are a TV, radio, DVD player, speakers, LCD, washable keyboard, and a video-monitoring feature that lets you keep a watchful eye other parts of the house.
The other Salton device, the Icebox Countertop Kitchen Entertainment Center, offers similar functions but is a stand-alone box that you can move from room to room. You can also network it with Beyond appliances, like the Beyond bread maker or microwave, priced at $180 each, or coffeemaker.
The Beyond microwave comes with 4000 bar-coded recipes, so to make perfect popcorn you need only scan the bar code and let the microwave do the rest. You can also add your own recipes.
TiVo on Steroids?
Prismiq's new $300 MediaPlayer/Recorder is what the company calls an entertainment gateway. Unlike a TiVo, the device has no hard drive. Instead, the box networks to your PC via ethernet or Wi-Fi, and saves shows to your PC's hard drive.
The MediaPlayer also pauses and forwards live TV; plays back DVDs as well as MP3, WMA, or WAV files; displays digital photos on your TV; plays Internet radio using Shoutcast's service; and lets you send and receive instant messages through a built-in America Online IM client. The unit connects to your TV via S-Video, S/PDIF, or RCA and includes an IR remote. Another feature lets you forgo a trip to Blockbuster: Through a service from CinemaNow, you can download movie trailers and movies.
Another add-on lets you create and password-protect profiles, enabling kids to save their favorite episodes of Sponge Bob Square Pants and parents to save Sex and the City in their own separate folders.
Coming on the heels its high-definition media player, Roku has introduced the SoundBridge M1000 and M2000, winners of CES Innovation Awards.
Both network to your PC via ethernet or Wi-Fi and stream music from your Mac or Windows system to dedicated speakers or to stereo. The fanless players include remote controls and support MP3, WMA, AAC (native ITunes format), AIFF, and WAV formats. The M2000 has a higher resolution (512 by 32) and costs $500; the M1000's resolution is 280 by 16, and it costs $250.
In Your Pocket
Taiwanese firm Yank's portable MP4 (and MP3) player, the PAV-2512, is priced at $350 and is scheduled to become available in February. The device holds 10GB, has a slot for an SD card, plays back MPEG4 videos, and displays your digital photos. While a handful of players can do this, few can play back videos and display digital images on your TV. Another uncommon feature is its capability to resize JPEG images.
ATI is showing off its new Imageon 2300 chip, which will power a variety of devices. The chip lets you play 3D games on your phone and snap true VGA photos. Unlike most cell phones that display only 2D graphics and support a limited number of cheesy games, Imageon 2300-powered phones will let you play Quake.
ATI isn't displaying any phones at CES--they're stuck at U.S. Customs, according to a company representative--but phones using the chips could be available in the United States by fall.
ATI's Imageon 4200 chip is already in products and powers Tapwave's Zodiac, which runs Palm OS 5.2T (and will be upgraded when Palm OS 6 ships).
The device has all the functionality of a Palm. It also supports Bluetooth and plays back AVI, MPEG 1 and 4 videos, and Quicktime, all through either stereo speakers or headphones. Plus, you can play 3D games on the device, which supports a stable of games including Doom II.
Chip maker NVidia also plans to launch 3D chips for personal digital assistants and phones.
Gimme a Kiss
No one wants a big, boxy system sitting in their living room entertainment cabinet. Kiss Technology had this in mind when the company created its component-size players.
The devices pair DVD players with a host of added features, including support for DivX, MPEG 4, MP3, and Ogg Vorbis. You can also use it to view JPEG pictures, tune into FM/AM radio, or wirelessly connect to the Internet.
Kiss offers many models of its wired DVD players. For example, the Kiss DP 1508 offers ethernet and Wi-Fi, an 80GB hard drive, and TV tuner. Pricing will be announced when the products become available in the first quarter.
See PC World's ongoing CES coverage.